≡ Menu
Vagabond Journey

Jakarta Pays Scavengers A Good Wage To Clean City, White Collar Workers Cry “No Fair!”

The municipal government of Jakarta recently announced that it’s going mobilize a team of 2,000 scavengers to clean the city’s streets as an answer to a growing garbage problem. What is interesting is that they said they are going to pay each of these new sanitation employees 2 million rupiah per month, which is around [...]

jakarta-scavenger

The municipal government of Jakarta recently announced that it’s going mobilize a team of 2,000 scavengers to clean the city’s streets as an answer to a growing garbage problem. What is interesting is that they said they are going to pay each of these new sanitation employees 2 million rupiah per month, which is around US$200 and close to the salary of a lower rung white collar worker.

From Kompas, translated by Indoboom:

Basuki explained that this effort would bring mutual benefit both for the scavengers and for reducing the amount of garbage in Jakarta. In addition, the scavengers can sort out the trash that still have value for sale and dump the rest of the trash accordingly.

‘Yes, we will provide them with a fixed salary. If we spend Rp 2 million for 2,000 people then it’s only going to cost Rp 48 billion. It is better than having a Rp 75 billion budget yet all the garbage problems still exist” he said.

As Jakarta tries to kill two birds with one stone — provide scavengers with work and good pay while at the same time getting a cleaner city — many educated, white collar Indonesians have raised some pretty big objections:

What was the point of getting an education if a garbage collector makes as much money as us?

This initiative has apparently challenged the city’s class system.

Some netizens commented:

An ordinary office worker’s salary is about Rp 2.2 million [US$ 220]… In comparison, the scavengers’ salary will be Rp 2 million [US$200]… Therefore, there will be more job alternatives for those bachelor degree graduates. lol.

Yay, it’s so cool that bachelor degree graduates can now work as office workers while high school graduates or below can work as garbage scavengers! Fantastic! We all are getting downgraded..! The value of our diploma is becoming more worthless as people start thinking they can get a Rp 2.2 million salary without even going to school.

A scavenger would surely be richer than high school graduates after this.

Bachelor degree graduates can only work as mini-mart employees…
While those below [high school graduates] would work as scavenger with a similar salary…

There are currently tens of thousands of scavengers making a living in Jakarta by scouring the city’s landfills and garbage depots for scrap and recyclables. They are the ones who separate garbage from that which can be recycled, and fill a societal niche by doing the work nobody else will touch. But this does not mean that their work is necessarily appreciated, and scavengers sit on the bottom level of the city’s class system. It is even common for many businesses to display signs that say “Pemulung Dilarang Masuk” (No Scavengers) on their doors.

Surprising perhaps, though dirty and treated as pariahs, many of Jakarta’s scavengers are not completely destitute. A report by the Guardians pegs them as making an average of 30,000 rupiah per day, which roughly adds up to around $90 per month. Scavenging is a full-fledged livelihood in Jakarta, and is one that the local government seems to be trying to step in and organize.

But there are many who seem to take this move as being an affront to their sense of class, which is often measured by salary anywhere in the world. If the people picking up garbage were paid the same as the people doing office work, what would be the status of the latter?

Status is little more than a social construct, but all cultures are ordered by it. Perhaps unfortunately, status is all too often based on income rather the role that a particular person plays for society.

jakarta-scavengers

Some Indonesian netizens did respond with the proper “thank goodness for them” appreciation that us computer tied white collar workers should show the garbage collectors of the world:

Have you considered that this work includes cleaning the gutters which are full of wet garbage which are disgusting and not easily picked up? I personally think it’s a very tough job so 2 million is a very reasonable salary if not maybe more. I don’t think I could do work like that as I would rather be sitting behind a desk.

And another:

A salary is usually directly proportional with production output. If public service employees can take the morning off or spend half the day reading newspapers plus chit-chat then why should they be paid higher? If the scavengers are given targets to clean certain road perimeters and they can achieve the target, why not give them a salary of Rp. 2 million? Your diploma can only help so much as many people can still be successful despite the lack of a proper education. Ultimately, I believe that salary should be directly proportional to work output, otherwise it’ll be similar to our parliament members.

The appeal of getting an education should be so you don’t have to get down in a gutter and pick up your society’s trash. But it’s also my opinion that the incentive of getting a formal education should be the prospect of doing a profession that you enjoy rather than the prospect of making money or gaining status.

Does it take an education to pick up garbage? No. But why is education held on such a high pedestal when all complex societies need armies of “uneducated” laborers willing to stoop down and take care of the trash? Something that I’m sure most white collar workers of the world would have a lot of difficulty doing.

Filed under: Indonesia, Social Issues

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3424 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support Wade Shepard’s writing on this blog (please help):

Wade Shepard is currently in: Prague, Czech Republic

5 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • RootLeaf January 28, 2013, 7:55 am

    Wow, good point. I can understand both parties. I saw an advertisement for bus drivers for some new lines in my city and they are offered almost the same salary as I get. Initial reaction: take a picture of the ad and send it to my boss asking for a raise, like what the hell are you paying me the same as a bus driver! Hahahahah But seriously. It’s just greed and status attachment. This is spot on: “But it’s also my opinion that the incentive of getting a formal education should be the prospect of doing a profession that you enjoy rather than the prospect of making money or gaining status.”Ultimately, what needs to happen is that everyone should have enough. Everything else is bullshit!
     
    Thanks for the article.

    Link Reply
    • RootLeaf January 28, 2013, 7:58 am

      But then again, if one of the scavengers invents a method which allows him or her to collect 5 times as much trash, should he or she get paid 5 times more? I think this is a good question.

      Link Reply
      • Vagabond Journey January 28, 2013, 7:47 pm

        @RootLeaf  I think the same argument could be made for any job. It’s my impression that there are jobs that pay based on performance (like farm work) and those that don’t. Personally,  think pay for all jobs should be performance based. It feels better to be paid for your own production rather than just selling your time — at least for me anyway.

        Link Reply
        • RootLeaf January 29, 2013, 12:11 am

          @Vagabond Journey Yes performance based, for it encourages better results, and with such intentions simply selling one’s time would be really unfulfilling. But just because one works on a computer is not really a reason to make more money than the people who work in the street. I wouldn’t want to work as a garbage collector if my salary was doubled or tripled, it’s just not my thing and conversely the nice people who collect my trash would not be able to do what I do. So it goes both ways. Trash collection is hard. On the other hand the girl whose job consists of sitting in the mall and keeping people from walking in restricted areas – kind of useless, and even though it is none of my business I’d be pissed to learn that she makes as much as I do meanwhile I push the envelope…

          Link Reply
    • Vagabond Journey January 28, 2013, 7:44 pm

      @RootLeaf Haha, that must have been funny. It’s just interesting how some jobs are gauged as being more valuable than others. Ultimately, though, it shouldn’t matter to me how much money someone else makes, but it’s difficult not to take that into consideration.

      Link Reply